Violet Hudson

In defence of Melania Trump

In defence of Melania Trump
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We all love Michelle Obama. Of course we do. For the last eight years she has been ‘mom in chief’ of America – and the world. She has personified grace, courtesy, warmth, humour and, not incidentally, shown us what a good marriage looks like. Tirelessly supportive of her husband, but successful in her own right, she has become a symbol of what a modern woman can be. She rose from a working-class background to attend Princeton and Harvard. She overcame racism and sexism to become a hugely successful lawyer. As First Lady, she was endlessly elegant and engaged, working to promote healthy eating, educational opportunity and women’s rights.

It has become a point of honour among certain sections of the liberal intelligentsia to take a very different stance with the new first lady, Melania Trump. Designers have refused to dress her: Marc Jacobs said he had ‘no interest’ in her wearing his clothes, while Tom Ford claimed ‘she’s not necessarily my image.’ Lady Gaga opined that Melania decrying bullying was ‘pure hypocrisy’. André Leon Talley, of American Vogue, compared her to a Stepford wife. And last week in the Times, Harriet Walker charted her style evolution, noting wryly that ‘gone are the short skirts, tacky peekaboo details and plunging necklines that characterised Melania’s look back when her husband was a mere reality TV star.’ The implication was clear: Melania’s old look was tacky, her new artificial. Lena Dunham mocked her on social media.

Fairly little is known about Melania Trump. But what we do know so far certainly doesn’t justify the vitriol that has been heaped upon her. She is the first First Lady to have been born in a communist country; only the second to have born abroad. She speaks six languages: Slovene, English, French, Serbo-Croat, German and Italian. Like Michelle Obama, she comes from a firmly working class background: she grew up in a housing block in Slovenia. As any woman would, she has smartened up her clothes since her husband started campaigning for high office. Melania did not choose this life: the President of the United States was not who she signed up to marry. She has, at times over the last twelve months, looked overwhelmed and frightened. She has publicly expressed her reservations about the new life being thrust upon her. She has even decided to stay on in New York, rather than move to Washington, so that her and Trump’s son, Barron, can continue his education uninterrupted. Clearly, then, she is a woman who values her child’s education and stability over her husband’s career. She has been nothing but gracious to the Obamas, yesterday presenting Michelle with a large gift box from Tiffany’s.

Today, tens of thousand of women worldwide join the ‘March for Women’. Started in Washington, there are sister marches in cities all over the globe - including British events in London, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester. It is a celebration of everyone – men are welcome too – who values human rights, dignity and justice. But the thrust is largely feminist: standing in solidarity with all women, everywhere. Reproductive rights are of especial concern at the inauguration of a President who has a dubious opinion on abortion policy. Yet how many of these women were sneering at Melania yesterday? How many noted, on Twitter, in their offices, in their heads, what she was wearing and how she deported herself? How many rush to judge her rather than meeting her with curiosity and an open mind?

If you march for women, you march for all women. Not just those whose husbands you agree with. Melania is on record as saying she doesn’t always agree with her husband, and that she wishes he would stop tweeting. His policies are not her fault, or her responsibility. Hold the man to task: don’t take the low option of disparaging his wife. That’s not feminist. That’s not even humane. Michelle Obama has been overtly welcoming to Melania. A fitting tribute to the former First Lady would be to follow her lead.